Michael Jackson: The Experience
When it arrives on Wii, Michael Jackson: The Experience may attempt to pass itself off as an energetic party package that pays hip service to the late King of Pop's legions of devoted fans. Yet, after seeing Ubisoft's new 'game' in action at a behind-closed-doors session at Gamescom, it might be better suited to the fitness demographic looking for something more fun than the fairly bland offerings they can presently select from.
Demonstrated by a hunky male professional dancer and Ubisoft's more-than-comparable Felicia Williams (international brand manager for The Experience), the player's general focus seemingly revolves around building the best score possible by accurately mirroring Jacko's on-screen movements in perfect time to the music, hitting specific beats along the way.
Williams, after impressing during a Billie Jean demo, was keen to point out that the game's oddly blur-faced Jacko was not actually created from footage of Michael Jackson himself but from professional dance choreographers "trained in the Michael Jackson style of dance." She was also thrilled to note that the game has been created in conjunction with the Jackson estate and is "something Michael Jackson would have been proud of."
The demo itself, showed Jacko's approximation centralised on screen with elements of the iconic Billie Jean music video interspersed around him. For example, the static background had a path twisting back towards a distant cityscape, while foreground elements included blowing leaves and illuminated pavement slabs. The detailing may be somewhat lightweight, but the on-screen dancing is near-constant and following movements is likely to be difficult enough without the addition of overpowering aesthetic padding.
Although Williams and her dancing partner were squealing with delight at all times - and were clearly having fun - our main concern with The Experience on Wii centres on the rather limited functionality of the Wii Remote and how it affects gameplay. Specifically, players without an overwhelming desire to mimic Jacko's fleet-footed routines will perhaps soon tire of expending extreme amounts of effort, preferring instead to rack up points by only hitting positions defined by the arm holding the Wii Remote. The fact that the rest of the body is not movement tracked and scored accordingly suggests only truly hardcore Michael Jackson fans will be prepared to go the whole hog.
The game's full track list has not yet been confirmed by Ubisoft, but some of the tracks expected to make the final set list include classics such as Billie Jean, Bad, Beat It, Earth Song and Who is it? Oh, and the Wii version will accommodate up to four players and jump-in/jump-out competitive play. Multiplayer details (online?) regarding other platforms was not forthcoming.
It's a shame that Ubisoft's demonstration relied on Nintendo's home console, not least because the studio has created exclusive Player Projection Technology to bolster the appeal of the game on Kinect - Williams seemed somewhat disappointed that she couldn't show it to us. Utilising the promise of Microsoft's twin camera system, the Xbox 360 version will include full-body tracking and player displacement, according to Williams, which will put players up on screen in sassy stage sets and amid atmospheric lighting effects and their very own background dancers.
Michael Jackson: The Experience is being developed for Wii, Xbox 360 Kinect, PlayStation Move, Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable, but the home console versions will offer slightly differing packages. Specifically, the Wii version will only have one level of difficulty, while the Kinect and Move iterations will be scalable - which again plays into the idea that Microsoft camera-supported motion technology could be better attuned for this sort of thing. The Kinect and Move versions will also come complete with a Michael Jackson School feature, where players will be able to learn how to throw shapes like MJ himself. Another platform-specific difference is related to the on-screen song lyrics that accompany each dance video. For example, they only exist on Wii so that players can sing along if they so choose. Meanwhile, over on Kinect and Move, the karaoke function will be implements directly into the gameplay and contribute directly to scoring.
More on Michael Jackson: The Experience as the game moves closer to release. Cha-mon! Eee-hee!